“Cheat meal” is a term used in many diet plans to describe the one meal of the week or month when you can eat whatever you want. In other words, it’s a meal to “go off the plan”. Some people use cheat meals to indulge in their favorite “unhealthy foods” that they can no longer eat while on a particular plan. Others also treat themselves to a high calorie meal at their favorite restaurants, ordering dishes that their plans didn’t allow such as chicken parmesan, fried calamari, bacon double cheeseburger, and creamy fettuccini… YUM!
Many people state cheat meals are important to be successful when dieting, with many benefits. Preventing you from feeling deprived, boosting metabolism, and increasing chances of success with a diet, etc… This is not always the case. Claiming that it is beneficial to binge out on sugar, refined wheat or trans fats just may not make sense in the long term. But when used strategically, you can use them to boost your metabolism and weight loss. However, following a sensible meal plan is always a must to render cheat meals a useful strategy.
Cheat Meals vs Refeeds
There has been a significant amount of support for occasional “refeeds,” as in eating more carbs or calories than usual one day, when you are strictly dieting. Fitness competitors and athletes benefit from these by resetting their hormones leptin and ghrelin when being very rigid with dieting. You might call these refeeds “healthy cheat days” where you are no longer calorie restricted but are still eating foods you regularly would.
Arguments for a Cheat Meal
- One of the main benefits is that cheat meals give you an incentive to continue. Cheat meals on a diet can be a welcome break that, despite what it might sound like at first, provides you with added incentive to stay on your diet plan. It means that you no longer have to wishfully look at an item of food and think you can never have it again.
- Additionally, the prospect of being able to eat something “forbidden” tends to increase our energy levels as well. The fact that it is a psychological break from the gruelling process of dieting is also highly beneficial. It is like taking a little vacation to recharge your batteries, in other words.
Cons of a Cheat Meal
- The biggest disadvantage, however, is that some people tend to lose control and turn a cheat meal into a cheat day (or sometimes a cheat week) that they undo all the previous hard work.
- As much as people praise the psychological effects, there are plenty of reasons why they won’t work for many people. Several people who have tried these types of diets claim they feel guilty, shameful, and bloated after their cheat meals. This feeling has been described as a sort of “sugar hangover.”
- In addition, no cheat day really goes without some sort of damage, hence the name “cheat.” It has been proven that once an individual eats something high in fat or sugar or both, areas of the brain light up that make it hard to stop eating and feelings of satisfaction are turned down.
- Turning your cheat meal into a binge fest has also been shown to cause digestive problems and eating disorders, as it leads to guilt the following days, which encourages extreme cuts in calories to make up for it.
How to Do It Right
- Cheat meals will only work during a diet when it’s enough to feel indulgent, but not so much that you set yourself back or end up wanting to eating more. Eating healthy, good and wholesome foods should not be a chore, it should be a natural lifestyle choice. Hence, if you feel like eating nothing but processed foods, carbohydrates and sugars on your cheat day, then your mindset isn’t quite there yet.
- That doesn’t mean it can’t get there and even if you find you truly binge on one of your cheat days, all is not lost, but the temptation is often hard to resist.
- Some experts feel that people need to move away from the idea that it is a “cheat meal”. Using terminology like “treat meal” instead of “cheat” helps with many of the negative psychological effects. For some people, it works to have one day out of seven where they can simply eat without counting calories. Other people prefer to have one out of every five daily meals to be one that they can simply enjoy. Others still span their cheat meals over even greater periods of time.
- As a rule of thumb, you should only schedule a cheat meal, after seeing some results from your exercise routine and staying on your meal plan AT LEAST a month. Until then, you simply don’t need it and it will not work to your favor.
- One way to determine whether you need it, simply ask yourself “do I really want it?”. If you don’t feel like having a cheat meal, you also shouldn’t feel pressured into having one, as this is likely to only backfire on you, meaning you might end up falling victim to the yoyo effect.
- Eating in front of a TV is never a good idea, as it is extremely easy to overeat, while paying attention to whatever is on TV and not what’s on your plate.
- From my experience, a maximum of no more than one cheat meal every three days has proved itself to be very effective with clients who have been on weight loss meal plans for over 2 months. Until then, one cheat meal a week is more than enough, but only in case where you keep seeing results from following an exercise routine on a weekly basis for at least four weeks.
Mastering the art of a cheat meal can provide amazing benefits to your figure and really boost your metabolism, when following a weight loss meal plan. The catch is to do it right and control yourself from turning them into cheat days. However, just as there are no magic beans or shortcuts, when it comes to your health, their effectiveness will depend on the quality of your diet plan in general. If you don’t have a sensible diet plan to follow yet, make sure to schedule a call with me to get started on a diet plan that will get you the results you want in a healthy and effective way.